From Behind a Bar to Behind the Bottle: Q&A with Amanda Weaver, Cellar Assistant

By Linnea Frazier

As is tradition here at Tablas, I like to track down various members of our family and torture them with a peppering of questions so as to create a better understanding of who we are behind the Tablas Creek label. My next victim in this series is Amanda Weaver, who began in our tasting room and was so successful that she was promoted to overseeing our merchandise and running many of our events, but decided after a few years that her true love was production. So, after a couple of harvests working part-time in the cellar here, she jumped to full time with a harvest in Australia, and returned to a full time position as our newest cellar assistant. Not only do we love her for her tenacity in pursuing the world of wine production, but also she happens to be one of the more fearless women in wine I know (in the cellar as well as the dance floor if you're lucky). With that said, check this girl out. 

Amanda 2

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Simi Valley California and lived there until I was 24. It was a cool smallish kind of town back when I was growing up. A pretty safe spot where you were bound to know someone no matter where you went, which was unfortunate when running to the store in your pajama pants at one o'clock in the afternoon. It'll be surreal to go home for Thanksgiving with all of the fire destruction.

What drew you to Central California?

You know, the usual life changes that pull you to new places. If I'm being honest, making wine was not really anything I thought I was interested in or qualified to do, so moving to the central coast was a move that ended up changing my whole life trajectory. 

How did you first hear about Tablas Creek?

I first heard of Tablas Creek when I caught wind of a possible job connection through a friend of a friend. There was this lovely French woman by the name Evelyne, I’m sure you know her, whom at the time had no idea who I was nor I her, well, she decides to put in a good word for me (again, not knowing anything about me) and stipulates that I should call a Mr. John Maurice at once and set up an interview. So I do as such, I send in my resume and promptly call Mr. Maurice who ends up being Mr. John Morris, the tasting room Manager. Funny part being that both of us had been expecting to be speaking to someone more... how do I put this... French! If you have had the pleasure of meeting Evelyne you would note her eloquent way of making everything and everyone just a little French. Well, so, I call and we talk a bit and set up to meet that Wednesday. I drive up, have the interview, and walk out with a job offer to be a part time tasting room attendant. I was PSYCHED! I agreed to start in two weeks with not a clue of where I was going to live. And you know, this story is always one of my favorites to tell, not only because I got a job at the end of it (which is amazing) but it is also extremely representative of the type of community that the Paso Robles wine industry has cultivated. Everyone is willing to help you out and make you a part of the family, and that is exactly what I have found here at Tablas, a family. Suffice to say, this is where I found my footing to really start my journey towards making wine.

Amanda

You started with us in the Tasting Room and now have transitioned into our full-time cellar hand which is an awesome evolution, could you describe what drew you to production? What’s your biggest challenge as a cellar hand?

Hah, it is an awesome transition I would have to agree. I learned so much from my time in the tasting room and was offered so many opportunities to expand my knowledge and even more opportunities to meet many of the people that make up our industry not only near but far as well. All of this knowledge is what spurred me and fueled my desire to at least give my hand a try at being the one behind the bottle instead of behind the bar. So, as harvest approached in 2016 I made myself a bug in the ear of Neil (Our Winemaker), Chelsea (Our Senior Assistant Winemaker), and Craig (Our Assistant Winemaker). Just constantly asking if there was room for me in their harvest team and flexing my arms to show I was strong enough. Well, it worked, not sure if they just wanted me to shut up or what, but I was in! I would say my biggest challenge in the cellar has been myself. That might sound strange, but I have found that I am my own worst heckler, and once I decide to silence that part of me that tells me I can't do something, I inevitably find that I am perfectly capable. Although, a close second would be my height, that tends to hinder me whether I am mentally game or not, but no worries, I have some awesome tall coworkers that help me out in those cases, or a conveniently placed ladder.

Now more than ever you see women winemakers in the industry and you see those numbers only growing every year. Is being a head winemaker your end goal?

I think it is awesome that women are making themselves more prominent in a role that men have dominated for so long. It is truly inspiring. Luckily, I have the honor of knowing a few of these, excuse the language, bad-ass women that are making strides in this rapidly growing region of wine making, not to mention that I work with one of them! As far as being head winemaker as an end goal, I would say I am in a position now that would give me all the tools necessary and support needed to get to a position like that in this industry, and that may be where I am headed once I feel as though I deserve it. But as of yet, I am stoked to be a part of such a rad crew that gives me so much knowledge and is patient with all of my inquiries.

What is it like to work harvest?

Oh man. I love this time of year because I feel like everything gets so much closer. We, as a team, get closer as we roll through our ridiculous highs together and pull one another out of our inevitable lows, while we as a vineyard get closer together as well. At harvest time, the gap between what we do in the cellar and what is happening in the vineyard converges into one functioning entity. And it’s beautiful, even at the end of a 12 hour day when you're dripping wet and have fallen into a drain or walked into a forklift, it's inspiring, cause no matter what, you're all in this together. Not to mention, we have some pretty fun traditions to keep us pumped throughout the harvest season like sabering champagne bottles to signal the start of harvest and various music themed days of the week. I would say the only thing I dread is the wrath of my dog. She's not a fan of my longer-than-usual work days....

You worked a vintage down in Australia earlier this year, and how did that experience compare to the culture of the American Harvests you’ve worked?

Uh, it is quite different, at least at the place I worked. It was more of just a job for most of my coworkers rather than a passion, which is fine and all, I just had to adjust my expectations. All together it was an experience that I am grateful for and would never trade, I met some really great people, hung out with a couple kangaroos, and gained invaluable knowledge to add to my wine-making handbook for the future. The one similarity that I found during my time in Australia was with the growers. I don't know what it is about raising grapes but it tends to produce larger than life personalities in those who take care of the vines. 

Which are your other favorite wines or wineries locally or around the world?

That is a loaded question. It’s a hard question to really articulate because finding a favorite wine is so sensory and indicative of a specific experience. However there are a few bottles that I have sought out recently that I came across during some of our wine nights in Australia. 

There is a super cool winery in Central Otago New Zealand called Burn Cottage that produces some amazing Pinot, their Estate named Pinot in particular is a favorite as well as their Moonlight Race Pinot. Then on the white side I would suggest getting your hands on a bottle of Gruner Veltliner from Nikolaihof, the orange label. Super crisp and smooth with notes of citrus and coursing with minerality. 

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month which would you choose?

Hmmm, at this moment I would probably choose our Vermentino and for the red Dutraive's Cap du Sud.

Amanda 1

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I don't know if anything about me is terribly surprising. I can rapid fire some facts and you can decide it they are surprising or not. Most people don't know that I took ballroom dancing lessons for 4 years, got pretty good I think. I believe the only reason I stopped was because the studio I was going to closed down. I was on the first ever womens Australian Football team. We were the Orange County Bombshells and our first legit game was on my 14th Birthday, we won (I think). Oooo.... Here is one most people wouldn't guess. I was in a sorority in college. Kappa Kappa Gamma. 

How do you define success?

Happiness. It's as simple as that. Growing up I was told that success was directly linked to your bank account and your status in the work force, and I totally believed it. I found myself slowly sinking into the stressful hamster wheel style of life that wasn't making me happy and I thought this was just how life was. But now that I am older I believe less and less in the idea that success is solely reliant on money. 


Releasing Esprit de Tablas and thinking about my dad

This is the time of year when we release the Esprit de Tablas and Esprit de Tablas Blanc.  We've been doing this long enough to have a pretty consistent plan of attack each year.  First, in late summer, we send our most recent vintage of the Esprits out to the club members who ordered futures en primeur the year before. Then, the Esprit wines form the centerpieces of our fall VINsider Wine Club shipments, which go out to members in early October.  We show those wines to members at our VINsider shipment tasting party (which happened this past weekend) and look for a local event at which we can have them make their public debut (this year, it will be at our Harvest Festival dinner with the Cass House Grill in Cayucos).

Then, we turn our focus to the national market.  I spend a good chunk of my fall getting in front of our distributors in key markets around the country; in the last few months I've made trips to Boston, Pennsylvania, New York, and Washington DC.  I head to Chicago next week.  Tomorrow I'll make the drive up to Santa Rosa and show the 2016 Esprits for the first time to Regal Wine Company, who represents us in California.  In these presentations, I tell the story of Tablas Creek, remind people that the Esprit de Tablas wines are our flagship bottlings, and share the new vintage with the sales team, who will hopefully then take that message out to the right restaurants and retail shops they call on.

Last year, we realized that the story of Esprit de Tablas was really, in many ways, a distillation of the story of Tablas Creek. It seemed to me that the only appropriate voice to tell this story was my dad's.  So, when I was in Vermont last summer, he and I sat down in front of a camera manned by my brother-in-law Tom Hutten, and spent an afternoon talking about how Tablas Creek came about.

Filming the Esprit de Tablas video with RZH

When we were done, we had about two hours of footage, treasure troves of stories from my dad's 60+ year wine career.  The multi-talented Nathan Stuart, whose primary role is to oversee our animal program, took off his shepherd hat and put on his videographer hat, and spent the next couple of weeks editing the relevant pieces of the story into a five-minute video that traces the development of the Esprit de Tablas, from my dad's perspective.  I'll be showing this video tomorrow to our California distributor, and again next week in Chicago.

I didn't realize, when I went to put my presentation together, how much hearing my dad's voice would affect me, but I've been finding that a lot of the times I miss him most are when it sneaks up on me unexpectedly, and I hear him talking about Tablas Creek, and remember how much he loved working on all this.  I will always feel lucky that I got to spend that time working with him, helping him make his dream of what Tablas Creek could be into reality.

Hopefully, the distributor teams I show this to over the next couple of weeks will find it inspiring, too. And hopefully, I'll make it through my presentation (most of which comes after this video) without choking up.


El corazón y el alma del viñedo Tablas Creek, David Maduena

By Jordan Lonborg

mas·ter (noun). A skilled practitioner of a particular art or activity.

It is not everyday that you encounter a master of a craft. Some of us may only get the chance to meet a couple in our lifetime. Few of us get the chance to work alongside one. For those of you that have not had the chance, it does not take long to realize the size of the shadow this person casts. For those of you that have, you’ll feel the words that precede this sentence.

It has been a privilege and an honor to work alongside David Maduena for the last three harvests. Although soft spoken, his mere presence demands respect. For 26 years David has worked the land at Tablas Creek. He remembers every vintage since 1992 (the year he started at Tablas Creek Vineyard) so clearly, it is almost unsettling. Whether the year had excessive amounts of rain (we should be so lucky), frost, heat etc., David remembers. All of the mistakes I and others have made, David remembers. Tonnages harvested, powdery mildew outbreaks, acres of each block, the spacing of the rows in said blocks, rootstocks, clones, and on and on, David Maduena remembers.

David has literally touched every vine on the property many times over. I’ve had conversations with him about certain blocks, rows, and even individual vines on the property, and his ability to recount the history of those blocks, rows and vines is truly awe-inspiring. An example that Neil told me: one day, a few years ago, David walked into the lab and said "there's some mildew in the Grenache". Neil asked him where, and he walked out to the quad and brought in one Grenache cluster that showed a little mildew. We never found another mildewed cluster that year. He'd found the one mildewed cluster, in a vineyard of 150,000 vines.

As Tablas grew, David was the man on the ground. Every ditch that had been dug for irrigation, David was there. When plants were being propagated in the nursery, David was there. Planting the vines that now make up the oldest and best blocks at Tablas Creek Vineyard? That was David. Grafting, fertilizing, pruning, shoot thinning, weeding, he's done all of that. Hard work is and has always been a stalwart in David’s life. He thrives on tough jobs. His upbringing sheds light as to why his hands, heart, and soul make him the amazing human he is today.

David is the second oldest in a family of fifteen children. He grew up in the rural hills of Durango, Mexico. Agriculture was not a profession for him and his siblings, it was a way of life. He has told me a few stories of those days that left my jaw wide open. The responsibilities he had as a young 13 year old will truly humble you to the core. I look at my 13 year old self and am stupefied as to how a person that age could provide for their family like David had been doing for his. Being the uncle of of 12 (soon to be 14) nieces and nephews that are closing in on that age, I’m even more amazed. At 15, David left Durango to come to the United States, for the chance to provide a future for his younger siblings and parents. I ask you to think about your 15 year old self, being faced with that decision. Myself and most others would not even be able to comprehend that choice at 15. David was able to. He left his parents, his sisters, his brothers, his cousins, his hometown, everything he knew and held dearly to his heart, to go 1000 miles away to a country that did not speak his language and did not understand his culture. All this at the age of 15. Once here he restarted a life, earned his residency, was hired, promoted, and promoted again at Tablas Creek, built a career, and started a family. He is the proud father of 7 amazing children and the lucky husband of a beautiful wife named Maggie (she is amazing).

In a country that was founded on immigration, founded on the “American Dream”, I cannot tell you enough how honored I am to work with a human being who so embodies that dream. He is the Vineyard Manager and a critical part of the success of this great winery. The vineyard crew he manages, the cellar team, accounting, administration, and tasting room staff respect him in a way that is nearly impossible to describe. The man is truly a living legend. I hope that everyone that reads this blog has had the chance to meet/work alongside a human that is a pure example of why this country is as great as it is.

David MaduenaDavid, preparing our old Chardonnay block (now Mourvedre and Counoise) for planting

Maduena YoungerDavid in a candid shot from the early 2000s

Hats off to you David Maduena. Thank you for being the bada** that you are. We all have a lot to learn from you and yours. There are no words for the amount of respect you have earned and deserve from all of us on the property. Tu realmente eres una leyenda viviente!

David with the years first pickDavid, overseeing the first pick of 2018: his 26th Tablas Creek harvest


The Voice on the Other End of the Phone: Q&A with Monica O'Connor, Direct Sales Manager

By Linnea Frazier

Here at Tablas Creek there are faces you see often, out in the market or when you visit our tasting room. But there are other faces, equally important, who operate behind the scenes. And these people play a huge role in making this vineyard what it has come to be. One of the goals of our interview series with members of our Tablas Creek team is to help you get to know some of the key people who you might not see out in front of the house. And of these, none is more important than ten-year veteran Monica O'Connor, our stunning and creative Direct Sales Manager. You may know her as the primary voice on the other end of the phone when you call our order desk. But in addition to that role, she's a key piece of our great Wine Club team, an accomplished home cook, and still designing and making clothes: a continuation of her earlier career in fashion. 

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Los Angeles and grew up on the “Miracle Mile”, not far from LACMA. We spent lots of time at the La Brea Tar Pits and the art museum, walking distance from home and school. It was a great time to grow up in LA!

Being originally from Southern California, what drew you up to the Central Coast?

I came from a large family - I have three brothers and two sisters, and our parents would take us on driving vacations during the summer. I remember loving the central coast area as a child when we would come through, and sometimes stay. There was something enchanting about it to me as a child, and that always drew me here.

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How did you transition from a degree in Fashion and Merchandising to the wine industry?

I earned my fashion design degree in 1988 and worked for a time in the industry. I was raising my son at the time and found myself without the time I wanted to spend with him, so when I was offered a position in my family’s printing business, I took it and enjoyed several years working with my father and sister there. I continue to enjoy designing and making clothes though - I have a couple of things in the works now!

When and how did you get into wine?

I became interested in wine through my older brother who has a small collection and has traveled a bit. I would come up to this area to visit, and attended the Paso Robles Wine University in 2004 and 2005, a weekend of learning about wine growing and appreciation. It was fun, but I mostly become interested in the art and science of wine. It was then that I discovered Tablas Creek, as Jason was a speaker in a few of the seminars. I ventured out here and took the tour, and subsequently joined the wine club! Not long after, I took a UC Davis course with Carole Meredith, and ultimately decided to leave LA to make the move here.

What is your role at here at the winery?

I am the Direct Sales Manager, and my role is to broaden, and add value to the relationships with members established in the tasting room and nurtured through the Wine Club.

What’s your biggest challenge as Direct Sales Manager?

My biggest challenge is probably in making it all move like a waltz! We have many members and I want to know them, what they like and expect. Fine-tuning this and communicating within are goals I’m always striving for.

Which are your other favorite wines or wineries locally or around the world?

I have not traveled extensively but I will say that some of my favorite wines are Champagnes. I also love and am fascinated by Burgundy wines. One of my favorite varietals is Sangiovese. Local wineries I like to visit are Bella Luna in Templeton, and down in Arroyo Grande, Laetitia, for their sparkling wines.

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month which would you choose?

If I had to pick just one red and white to drink for the next month? No question, the white would be the 2015 Esprit Blanc. It reminds me a little of the 2007, which I adored. Its depth and high notes are totally balanced and it’s perfectly beautiful. For the red, well the recent heat is really influencing me here - I have to say the Tablas 2016 Counoise. Chilled, friendly with any summer food you can think of - it’s a natural!

Do you have a favorite food and wine pairing?

I love coming up with new food and wine pairings, but I have a special love for Mourvedre. And paired with a simple filet steak rare, with a perfect crust . . . something delicious and unfussy to savor!

Monica (002)

How do you like to spend your days off?

On the weekends I love to run on the beach or hike, design and make clothes and create new recipes. I recently made preserved lemons - so easy, I don’t know why I never made them before! They make everything that calls for lemons better - try it!

What would people be surprised to know about you?

One thing people might be surprised to know about me is that I’m a yoga teacher. I have helped people with yoga therapy, and though I haven’t taught a group class in many years, I love yoga and believe it has far-reaching benefits.

What is one of your favorite memories here?

One of my favorite memories here at Tablas Creek is hearing Bob’s stories. He had many and I heard only a few first-hand, but the way he distilled his experiences, and communicated them was really special. I know I am very fortunate to have had these impromptu interactions with Robert Haas.

How do you define success?

Success to me is living a life that is always creative. Not only working on creative projects, but making every decision and being able to act from my creative center. Those I admire most live this way at every age, and I hope I will too.

 

This is but a scratch at the surface of how incredible this woman is, so we hope you're as in love with her as we are! 


From Temecula to Tannat: a Q&A with Misty Lies, New Tasting Room Team Lead

By Linnea Frazier

Continuing our Interview Series with members of our Tablas Creek Crew, we would like to introduce you to our new Tasting Room Sales Lead, Misty Lies.

She not only makes certain things don't get out of hand in the tasting room, but she also is a successful mother of two children as well as the mama to us all in the front of the house. 

Plus, she's not only our recently promoted, kickass new sales lead, but she can also quite literally kick your butt. I’m not joking; the woman is trained in Krav Maga and tells the story of her making a citizens arrest with glee. Facing down a rowdy bachelorette party in the tasting room? No contest.

Misty came onto our team Spring of last year, and if you have come out and tasted with us since then, odds are you’ve seen her behind one of our bars hoarding all the Tannat. I sat down with her recently to ask about her journey to Tablas Creek.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in La Jolla, but I grew up in Encinitas. Before my husband and I moved up here I was down in Temecula.

What drew you to Central California?

My husband is a firefighter and so we moved up here for that. Truthfully it wasn’t wine!

Misty blog

How did you first hear about Tablas Creek?

I drove by it all the time and I would ask my friends what Rhone wines were. And nobody knew even though we were already drinking them, like Syrah’s and GSM’s! Apparently I loved Rhones before I even knew what they were, which is what I think a lot of California wine drinkers do. I started talking to John (our Tasting Room Manager) back and forth, and I told him I had retail experience with Williams-Sonoma and tasting room experience for an olive oil company, and was interested in the wine industry. In my interview he asked me what I knew about wine and I told him that, “I know I like to drink it.” I figured what better way to learn about wine than to work in it?

[When I asked John about Misty, he said, "Misty is a tremendous worker, has great character, and takes great care in everything she does.  I sensed all of these traits in her interview, and thought that even though she didn’t have experience in the business, her interest in and love of wine combined with her character would make her a great fit here at Tablas Creek.  She has been everything I hoped for and more."]

What is your role at the winery?

I was working part-time in the tasting room as a pourer because my husband Nate and I were preparing to move up to Monterey, but now that is no longer occurring so I’m staying at Tablas and they offered me a tasting room lead position! I believe in making a connection with the people you’re talking to on the other side of the bar, that’s what makes them want to come back at the end of the day. Plus, I used to teach special education down in Temecula and now I’m still doing what I love which is teaching, but now it’s about wine.

What’s your biggest challenge as Tasting Room Sales Lead?

Making sure people get to where they need to be when they walk through the door. It’s up to us to get them to a bar and proceed with a tasting and when things get crazy in the tasting room it’s easy to get distracted.

Which are your other favorite wines or wineries locally or around the world?

No official comment on the Temecula wine scene, even though I lived there for years. But I really love what they do at Brecon, not to mention they throw a heck of a pickup party. Lone Madrone is always fun, plus there’s the fact they have Tannat.

Misty and family 2.5

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month which would you choose?

Tannat… well duh. But the new Cotes Rouge is awesome and I tried a 2013 at our pizza making party, and now there’s no going back. In terms of whites I would have to say just genuinely all Rhone whites. They’re so different than any whites we’ve grown up thinking about. I only drank reds before I came here and now helloo Picpoul!

You are quite the accomplished chef, do you have a favorite food and wine pairing?

I’ve been really into paella recently. There are so many of our whites that go with that. The Esprit Blanc goes wonderfully, and is so versatile because of its creaminess.

How do you like to spend your days off?

Planning the next adventure. Life is all about seeing everything and tasting everything you possibly can. You should always ask yourself, “What haven’t I done yet?”

What would people be surprised to know about you?

Well if I ever won the lotto I would want to buy socks for all the homeless, because there’s nothing quite like a new pair of socks.

What is one of your favorite memories here?

The tasting room pizza making class was awesome. But it’s like a family here in general. We look after one another and get excited for each other. And that sense of whole is what makes me excited to come to work. I get to talk to the people I work with but I also get to talk with the people who walk through the door.

How do you define success?

Success is doing something you like doing, because if you have fun doing it, then it’s not a job. And it’s also not about having all the money in the world, it’s about having an adventure along the way. Because the more money you make the more money you spend.

If you're as in love with her as we are (and want to pick her brain about the homeless sock answer), stop by our tasting room and she'll have you chuckling in no time. 


Giving Robert Haas the Send-off He Deserved

This Sunday, we hosted a celebration of my dad's life here at the vineyard. We tried to make it an event my dad would have enjoyed: good food and wine, not too formal, a chance for people to tell stories in different ways, either to speak to the whole audience, to reminisce in smaller groups, or to record a video with Nathan, our Shepherd/Videographer.  About 350 people came, from as far away as France and Vermont, wine folks from all over California, and a great representation of the local wine community.  The mood was one of appreciation, not sadness, which I thought was great.  Yes, we are all sad to lose him, but at almost 91 he had a great and long life, achieved so many goals that he had, and laid the foundation for many others to succeed after him.

RZH IG Collage

I will forever be grateful to everyone who helped put this event together.  There were many, but a few principal ones were Neil Collins, who did a masterful job organizing leading the storytelling; Chef Jeff Scott, who put together a great array of foods for the gathering including my dad's favorite East Coast oysters and Tablas Creek lamb; my brother-in-law Tom Hutten, who assembled a selection of music from my dad's favorite artists and eras, Nathan Stuart, who spent his day filming reminiscences and the breaks taking photos; the many volunteers from the Paso Robles wine community, who manned the food and wine stations so that the team here could participate fully in the event; and finally Kyle Wommack, Wonder Woman and master event coordinator, who pulled together all the pieces of this complicated event -- of a sort we'd never hosted before -- and allowed the family to focus on the guests who came and on what we wanted to say.

LRG_DSC05201

It has also been a pleasure to see the tributes that appeared in the national and international press since he passed away.  If you haven't read these, and you have a half hour to spare, there are some wonderful stories in each of these pieces. My sincere thanks go out to all these writers, who gave him the tributes his long career deserved. In the order in which the stories were published:

A theme that came out again and again both in the articles that were written and in the tributes that people gave on Sunday was that my dad was a builder: someone who didn't just come up with ideas (though he did that, for sure) but oversaw the creation of structures that were set up to succeed long-term.  The impacts of that foundation-building were in full evidence at the party, with people there to remember his work not just at Tablas Creek, but as an importer, as an advocate for the Paso Robles wine community, and as a patron of the arts.  I thought it might be interesting for me to share the speech I wrote for the occasion.  I didn't end up giving it verbatim, but this was, more or less, what I said to the group.

Welcome, everyone. I had an anxiety dream a few days ago where there were only about 40 people here and I had to slink up to the podium and announce that we were going to start, I guessed, since it didn’t look like anyone else was coming.  I am so honored to see all of you here, and to have heard from so many of you – and so many people who couldn’t be here today – about how my dad had touched your lives. It’s been one of the really nice things in what has been a difficult month.

I remember, when Meghan and I were thinking about moving out here almost 20 years ago, that getting the chance to work with my dad while he was still actively involved in Tablas Creek was my main motivation in making the move when we did. If I’d waited a few years, and something had happened to him, I would have regretted that forever. But I wasn’t sure exactly what it was that he did that had made him successful. After having the pleasure of working with him for 15 years, I think it boiled down to three things:

  • First, he generated more ideas per amount of time spent at work than anyone else I’ve ever worked with. This wasn’t always easy – there were times when it drove us all nuts, because he would have a new good idea while we were still trying to implement the last one – but what a great foundation for any business.
  • Second, he was willing to lead by example. Whether this was going out well into his 80s and carrying a wine bag up and down the New York subway stairs showing Tablas Creek, or being the first to stand up and put in money to get the 11 new Paso Robles AVAs off the ground, or in creating the winery partners program to support the Foundation for the Performing Arts Center, on whose board he served into his 90s, if the cause was something he believed in, he was willing to put his own time, effort, and money into making sure that cause succeeded.
  • Third, he believed in people. One of the hallmarks of all the companies he founded was that people stayed and made a career there. He did this by giving the people he hired the authority to make the right decisions in their area of expertise, by allocating them the resources they needed, and by providing them vision without micro-managing the details. There are people here today from Vineyard Brands who remember me coming home from little league games and walking through the sales meeting dinners that he and my mom were hosting, in uniform. A dozen of them made the trip out here, many of whom are still there 30 years later, running the company that he founded.

My dad also had a pretty clear sense of what mattered, and what didn’t. I remember once, getting a semi-critical review in a class I took in high school, that said (with the implication that my judgments were perhaps less nuanced than they should be) that I had “little use for fools”. He read it and said, “well, I’m not sure there is much use for fools. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

But in the end, what I’m going to hold on to most about my dad was his essential optimism. He started this vineyard when he was already in his early 60s. He did it in a way that guaranteed that we wouldn’t see any wine for a decade. And for him, none of that mattered. It was an interesting and worthwhile thing to do.  He was confident that he could figure out the pieces he didn’t yet know.  The fact that we would be making wine from grapes that most Americans didn’t know and couldn’t pronounce, and that we would be blending these grapes into wines that didn’t really have a category in the marketplace, were just details that could be overcome by perseverance and force of will. That perseverance and force of will hadn’t ever let him down.  And they wouldn’t here either.

All kids, I think, grow up thinking that what they grow up with is normal.  Your dad is “Dad”. He does the things he does because that’s the way the world works.  I will forever be grateful that I got the chance to work with my dad as an adult, and see him through the eyes of the people he worked with and inspired.  And I believe that the reason he was successful in business was the same as why he was a great dad and a great friend.  You always knew where you stood.  You always knew that if you needed his support, you’d have it.  And you knew that when he said something, he meant it. 

I have one story I’d like to end with.  I remember, not long after we moved out here, walking out into the middle of the vineyard here with my dad.  Most of the vines here were still young.  He was in his mid-70s.  He stopped for a moment and waved generally toward the vineyard and said, “you know, I didn’t build this for me.  I’m not going to be around when it’s at maturity.  I didn’t even really build it for you.  But it should be amazing for your kids.”

Thank you all for coming today.  I am really looking forward to hearing your stories.  It’s been an honor to spend as much time inside my dad’s life as I have these last two decades.  Thank you all for being a part of it.

JH speaking at RZH memorial

Finally, one observation that really drove home to me what a lasting impact my dad had on not just the communities in which he lived, but on the people who he brought into the businesses he started.  At the event, there were some 65 people who had worked for him either at Vineyard Brands or at Tablas Creek.  By my rough calculations, those 65 people had combined for about 1000 years of tenure in his businesses.  And that, I think, is the legacy of which he would have been proudest.


The Man Behind the Forklift: Q&A With Assistant Tasting Room Manager Charlie Chester

By Suphada Rom

Always on the go with a task list that extends beyond the length of your forearm, Charlie Chester has a diverse role here at Tablas Creek. From curating a collector's tasting for enthusiastic guests to transferring pallets of wine to keep the tasting room stocked, Charlie does it all- while also juggling the his son Brandon, now age two.

Charlie New
Charlie in our new seated flight tasting room

How did you learn about Tablas Creek?
I was a wine club member before I was an employee. I visited the winery in 2011, right after the new tasting room was finished. I was on my way back from an extended ski season up north in Truckee and I wanted to pick up my wine club shipment. I was enjoying the new tasting room, newly released wines while chatting with John (Tasting Room Manager).  I mentioned I was interested in working for Tablas Creek and he invited me back for an interview.  The rest, as they say, is history!

Why did you choose to join the Wine Club at Tablas Creek?
Before I worked for Tablas Creek I was working in the limousine industry, chauffeuring people around Paso Robles, I got to see it all. I really enjoyed visiting the different tasting rooms, observing like a fly on the wall. After visiting a winery more than once, I could gauge for consistency both in quality of wine and customer service. Tablas Creek stood out as having unique, consistently high quality wines plus their staff was always super friendly.  The tasting room staff would go out of their way to show you something special and share their passion for the wines and the story. 

John and Charlie
Charlie (left) with Tasting Room Manager John Morris

What do you think is special about Tablas Creek?
I like being part of something that is on the cutting edge of Rhone wines in California. I remember the first time I had Counoise on it's own, bottled varietally, and I thought that was really great. To be able to share these unique wines that are normally only found in blends one of my favorite things we do here.  Last year we introduced Terret Noir and Clairette Blanche to the U.S and Paso Robles... how great is that?!

Your title here is Assistant Tasting Room Manager and Logistics- what does a typical day look like for you?
I help things runs smoothly both in the tasting room and in our wine inventory. During the busy season we can have multiple tour groups, tastings, private tastings, group tastings- I help to make sure everyone has a good experience and all positions are staffed appropriately. We have a jigsaw puzzle-ish library storage area that I am constantly moving and shuffling wine around in. I also like driving the forklift around!

What is your most memorable experience here at Tablas?
Oh man, last summer we had some fun with the sheep!  That was crazy. We were finally heading home after a busy day in the tasting room when I noticed our herd of sheep on the road!  We had to get them back on the property so my first instinct was to try to corral them back in and out of the road, so I grabbed a bucket of sweet feed (a mix of grain and molasses the animals go crazy for!). That usually works to lure them in. While I drove the gator, a few other tasting room team members were doing their best herd them. It took us about 2 hours to finally get the sheep in their pen. 

Escaped Herd
Herding the escaped animals

When it comes to running the tasting room, what is your work philosophy?
I want to make sure everyone is happy and taken care of.  In the tasting room there's always something exciting to share with new guests, from someone who, say, knows the tasting room as it stands today, to someone who first tasted with Bob [Haas, our founder] "off of two barrels and a plank in the cellar". 

What's your favorite thing about your job here?
I enjoy the diversity of things that I get to do in the winery and on the property from taking care of the animals to driving forklifts and moving wine....All of it's awesome!

When you're not working, what are you doing?
Spending time with my son, Brandon. He's two. Hanging out with friends, grabbing a beer and tacos, going to the beach. Go wine tasting! 

Finally, how do you define success?
Happiness!! Work isn't as meaningful if you don't believe in what you're doing and if you're not happy doing it.

Charlie and Brandon_edit
Charlie with son Brandon and father Charles Sr.

Robert Haas, 1927-2018: A Life Well Lived

It is with sadness that I write to report that my dad, Tablas Creek's co-founder Robert Haas, passed away last weekend, one month before his 91st birthday. Followers of Tablas Creek likely know him from his time here at the winery, either at events like our blending seminars, or from his articles on this blog. He was a regular presence at Tablas Creek well into his tenth decade.

What many of you may not know is the impact he had on the American wine market before Tablas Creek ever got off the ground, or what he was like as a person. I hope to share some of each of these in this piece, as well as some of my favorite photos of him. And we may as well start here, from his 89th birthday party two Aprils ago:

RZH & JCH

My dad was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn on April 18th, 1927. His father Sidney ran a gourmet butcher shop named M. Lehmann that he had inherited from his uncle Morris Lehmann. My dad would talk about going to visit his grandparents and walking over to Ebbets Field, and would remain a Dodgers fan for life. One of my favorite gifts I ever got for him was a ball signed by Sandy Koufax. Small but strong and quick, he also played baseball and was a good enough shortstop to get an invitation to an open Dodgers tryout from a scout while he was in high school, and a good enough athlete to win summer camp tennis tournaments despite never really playing the sport.

After the repeal of prohibition Sidney was on the ball enough to get New York's first retail liquor license, and turned M. Lehmann into a liquor store and eventually New York's top fine wine shop. Meanwhile my grandparents had moved to Scarsdale, NY, in the suburbs, and my dad had gained a sister, my aunt Adrienne. After high school, he followed in his grandfather's footsteps and went to Yale, but interrupted his studies and enlisted in the Navy in December of 1944. After two years in the Navy, he returned to Yale, graduated class of 1950, and joined his father's business.

While there, he convinced his father -- who thought no one would ever pay for wine before they could take possession of it -- to put out the first-ever futures offer on Bordeaux, commissioning hand-colored lithographs describing the qualities of the 1952 vintage and selling out the 1500 cases he had reserved in just a few weeks. When the store was looking for a new buyer for their French wine after the death of Raymond Baudouin in 1953, my dad and his two years of college French jumped at the opportunity. His goal on this first French trip in 1954 was ostensibly to find a new wine buyer. But I've always gotten the sense from him that he decided quickly that there was no way anyone but him was going to do that job. I asked him just a few weeks ago if that was true, and he responded "Yes, I pretty much knew at the end of my first day that this was what I wanted to do". So, at age 27, he became M. Lehmann's wine buyer, and soon after started cultivating relationships with distributors in other states, so he could be a better customer for the suppliers whose wines he was buying. Meanwhile, he had married, and had his first two children, my sister Janet and brother Danny.

It was in this period that he cemented his relationships with many of the Burgundy suppliers who are still crown jewels of the Vineyard Brands import book: iconic estates  like Domaine GougesMongeard-MugneretDomaine Ponsot, and Dauvissat. He also agreed to buy the lion's share of the production of Chateau Lafite and Chateau Petrus after their British agents balked at a price increase for the iconic 1961 vintage, and represented them exclusively over the next decade.

His relationship with my grandfather was not always smooth. I know there was tension where my grandfather wanted him to spend more time minding the store, and less time traveling around France buying wine and around America selling it.  Sidney was at heart a merchant, not a wine lover.  I believe he thought my dad would settle down at some point, and was surprised that when he announced that he was ready to retire, my dad suggested he sell M. Lehmann and my dad would take the contacts he'd made and turn them into an importing business.  But neither backed down, and that's what happened.  After an initial ill-fated sale to one of its employees, the rival Sherry Wine & Spirits bought M. Lehmann and merged the two to become Sherry-Lehmann Wine & Spirits, which remains one of New York's iconic wine shops to this day.

The late 1960s was a difficult period for my dad in a few ways. He was a one-man show, often advocating for wine in a market that didn't yet value it. He worked for a few years to build a wine division within Barton Brands, who had bought the inventory from my grandfather's import company, before he realized that they were so much more interested in liquor that getting them to focus on wine was hopeless. And his first marriage had ended, although he did meet my mom not long after, on a flight back to New York from Florida. When my mom Barbara first visited his apartment, she remembers the entire contents of his fridge being a few condiments and a bottle of vodka. A photo from their wedding, in January 1968:

Parents at their wedding

It was in this period that he first met Jacques Perrin and convinced him to sell him some wine from the Beaucastel cellar. [The remarkable story where I found one of these bottles on the legendary wine list at Bern's Steak House is told in full in one of my favorite-ever blog posts, from 2012]. He built upon this relationship with Jacques' son Jean-Pierre, with whom he developed the La Vieille Ferme brand. From a beginning of a few hundred cases, sold as an exclusive to Sherry-Lehmann in 1970, it is now the largest French wine brand in the world. In the end he decided to set up shop on his own, first in New York and then, when they got tired of city living, from the converted barn of the 1806 Vermont farmhouse to which they moved in 1970. He incorporated Vineyard Brands in 1973, the same year that I was born. This photo of Jacques (left) and my dad is from that very same year, which I know because there's also a photo of me, age 5 months, sitting on Jacques' lap from the same visit.

Jacques Perrin & Bob Haas 1970s

Through the 1970s and 1980s, he balanced additions to the estate side of Vineyard Brands with new brands, championing Rioja (Marques de Caceres), Chile (Santa Rita), and New Zealand (Villa Maria).  He also had his second daughter and fourth child, my sister Rebecca, and was active in the Chester, Vermont community, serving on the school board and as a little league coach. Long-time employees of Vineyard Brands still remember us coming back to the house in uniform as they were getting ready for dinner.

He was not infallible in his business judgments; he had an ongoing tendency to be ahead of the market, championing regions that are now critical darlings like Beaujolais, Languedoc, and Oregon a decade or longer before the market was ready to accept them. But he had a terrific nose for regions or wines that were punching above their cost, and was willing to put in the work to establish regions and producers at the same time. 

This instinct was on full view in California, where he represented some of the greats of the first generation in Napa and Sonoma, like KistlerJoseph PhelpsChappelletSpring Mountain, and Clos du Val in the 1970s, and he helped launch Sonoma-Cutrer in the 1980s as the California Chardonnay wave was gathering. When he was in California with Jean-Pierre Perrin or his brother Francois, he would bring them to visit California wineries to see what they thought, and they together came away both convinced that California was capable of making world-class wines and confused as to why no one was trying Rhone varieties in the clearly Mediterranean climate. Abstract discussions in the mid-1970s gradually became more serious, and they decided to start looking for property together in 1985, even as each was fully engaged in growing their own businesses. This photo of my dad with Jean-Pierre and Francois at Beaucastel is from around that time:

Robert Haas with Jean Pierre and Francois Perrin at Beaucastel c 1985 larger

I first became aware that my dad was a big deal in certain circles when I read an article ("Have Palate, Will Travel") in a 1988 edition of the Wine Spectator. The photo below, which is one of my favorites of him, must have been from the same photo session, since he's wearing the same outfit. He's leaning against the gate of one of the gardens at our Vermont house. He hadn't yet started to step back from the day-to-day operations at Vineyard Brands, but he would soon, to focus on Tablas Creek:

RZH in Vermont 1985

By the early 1990's, my dad had turned over the running of Vineyard Brands to his second-in-command there, and the relationships with the French suppliers to my brother Danny. How he did so says a lot about him. He saw an ad in the Boston Globe about a seminar promoting a new federal program called an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) which could be used to turn a business over to its employees. And that's what he did: in essence, Vineyard Brands bought itself from him, and is now owned by its employees.  This has allowed the company to remain independent, to continue to grow and thrive after my dad's retirement, and to enjoy a continuity and longevity from its team that is almost unheard of in this age. There are still significant portions of the senior leadership of Vineyard Brands that were hired by my dad, more than 25 years ago. And my dad was able to take the money and invest it in Tablas Creek.

The search to find Tablas Creek and the development of the property here is likely better known to readers of this blog, but I think the same willingness to be ahead of the curve was in evidence in the decision to settle on Paso Robles at a time when few people were talking about it, and the focus on blends when the marketplace was firmly oriented toward varietals. But in both cases, he was convinced that what mattered was the right raw materials (soils, climate, rainfall) and the right winemaking decisions.  The rest was simply a question of perseverance. The photo of the ceremonial planting of the first vines released from quarantine in 1992 shows (from left) Jean-Pierre Perrin, my cousin Jim O'Sullivan, my mom and dad, Charlie Falk (who worked for my dad at Vineyard Brands and then helped with the search for Tablas Creek), Charlie's wife Gretchen Buntschuh, and Jean-Pierre's wife Bernadette Perrin. 

Group shot at TCV groundbreaking

As Tablas Creek grew from an idea into a business, it encountered many of the challenges faced by any startup. We overestimated the readiness of the market for the blends we were making, and underestimated the importance of taking an active role in our own marketing. But the fundamental idea that my dad and the Perrins had was a good one, and this spot has turned out to be an extraordinary one in which to grow Rhone grape varieties. And because of my dad's business philosophy -- that you make your best guess at what you need to do, put the resources behind it, and then be willing to adjust your strategy based on what you learn -- we were able to make the changes that eventually allowed Tablas Creek to thrive.

Perhaps most important to Tablas Creek's legacy will end up being the partners' decision to bring in grapevine cuttings rather than live with what was already in California, and to make the clones we'd imported available to the community. More than 600 vineyards and wineries around the United States use Tablas Creek cuttings, and my dad was always convinced that our decision to bring in vines spurred the reversal of a long-standing policy by ENTAV (the French national nursery service) against partnering with out-of-country nurseries. This policy change has led to the import of hundreds of new varieties and clones, and a new flowering of diversity in American grapegrowing, Rhone and otherwise.

My dad maintained an active role at Tablas Creek up until the very end. I often heard from his friends that they thought that his passion for this project kept him young, and I believe that. In the period in the mid-2000's when we were pushing to establish Tablas Creek in the market, he was out there (in his 70's and 80's, mind you), riding around with our distributors, making presentations to restaurants and retailers, up and down subway steps during the day and hosting dinners and tastings in the evening. A quiet retirement this was not. But he was always willing to put his own effort behind the things he believed in, and if this was what needed to be done, he was going to do it. And the example of the Perrins, who are now on their fifth generation running their estate, is an inspiring one for all of us. The photo below, from 2009, shows my dad at lower left, and then (continuing counter-clockwise) me, Francois Perrin, Francois' son Cesar, and our winemaker Neil Collins, who has been here so long he might as well be family.  It's not only in Vineyard Brands that the longevity of the employees my dad hired is in evidence; it's a hallmark of every business he's been a part of.

Haases  Perrins and Neil

By the early 2010s, my dad had cut back a little but was still coming into the vineyard 3-4 days per week, and had stopped going out and working the market but was still hosting 4-6 wine dinners a year around the country. He led the 2015 Tablas Creek Rhone River Cruise with my mom. And he was starting to be recognized as the living icon that he was. One of the nicest windows I got into how others saw him was in the production and ceremony for the lifetime achievement award he received from the Rhone Rangers in 2014. The video incorporated his story with interviews with many of the wine industry titans whose lives and careers he impacted. I've been re-watching it a lot this week.

In the last few years, my dad's health issues escalated; he endured a stroke 18 months ago, and wasn't able to be at the vineyard as much.  But he and my mom still maintained an active role in the community, and he continued his work with the Foundation for the Performing Arts Center, in San Luis Obispo. In 2009, he he created a new "winery partners" program for the Foundation that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support arts in our local community. He continued to lead this program until last year, and asked at the end that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the foundation.

As he did with the rest of his life, he knew what he did and didn't want for his death. He wanted to be at home, he wanted to have family around, and he didn't want a fuss made. So last week, as it became clear that the end was near, my siblings flew out and joined my mom and me here in Paso Robles. He was lucid until Friday evening, and peaceful at the end. And I will forever be grateful for the time I got to spend with him, not just at the end, not just growing up, but in working with him for the last fifteen years. It's not every son who gets to know his dad as an adult, and gets to see him through the eyes of others who know him professionally.  Hearing, over the last few days, from all the people whose lives he impacted over his long life and career, has been an unexpected treat in this difficult time. Thank you to everyone who has reached out. We will all miss him.

RZH at 90


Customer Service Champion: Q&A with Dani Archambeault, Wine Club Assistant

By Linnea Frazier

As many of you know, most small to medium sized wineries' businesses are only as successful as their wine clubs. They form the backbone of the direct to consumer sales that allow vineyards to thrive, and their members, if a club is done well, become advocates for the winery out in the world.  A huge -- but often unseen -- component of a wine club's success is the team of people who oversee their club. They are the point people in customer service and often sales, and familiar faces or voices when members visit, phone, or open their inbox.

With that in mind, I'd like to introduce you to Dani Archambeault, one of our Wine Club Assistants here at Tablas for the last seven years. As a part of the power group of awe-inspiring ladies who make our wine club the great experience it is for its members, Dani is one of the more dynamic people you will ever meet. She knows Tablas Creek wine like nobody's business and whether you meet her at the winery, at an event, or on the parquet lanes of our local bowling alley, she's someone you'll never forget. If you come out for a visit, you will find her fielding calls in the office or dashing back and forth getting your wine orders together. 

Dani-Cube_8fe3a1436060ad430a55b7a65e67327d

Where were you born and raised?  

Porterville, CA… my father owned a Pest Management Company for Orchards & Vineyards.

When and how did you get into wine? 

Not until my late twenties… I started on some Aussie Yellow Tail wines!

How did you come across Tablas Creek? 

In 2010 my husband & I took a leap of faith & left the LA area hustle & bustle & headed for Paso Robles wine country.  We lived in our Airstream trailer in a vineyard while working harvest & tasting room jobs. I had heard so many great things about Tablas Creek and as soon as an opportunity to work here became available I went for it! Everything about Tablas is truly exceptional… from the vineyard, the wines, the staff, and the Haas family’s passion for quality and sustainability.

Airstream-vineyard Dani interview

What is your role here at the winery?

For the last seven years I have worked with our Wine Club Team. Our club continues to grow & we work hard to ensure everyone receives outstanding customer service.

Which are your other favorite wines or wineries locally or around the world? 

Casa Dumetz in Los Alamos makes delicious Grenache! And I am a big fan of Chateau de Beaucastel Coudoulet Rouge.

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month which would you choose?  

The 2015 En Gobelet is drinking so well right now & I got a sneak sample of the 2017 Dianthus Rosé… both of those wines are awesome!

Do you have a favorite food and wine pairing?

My husband pulls a brisket off the smoker, I open a Tablas Creek Tannat or En Gobelet, our kids are running around the backyard screaming…. Perfect pairing =)

You and your husband Kevin have dabbled in winemaking before, any advice to aspiring winemakers?

We only make a small amount of wine every few years that we use to help raise funds for some charity projects that our close to our hearts.  We love to drink wine, so being a part of the entire process is so much fun and you appreciate what’s in that bottle on a whole new level!

How do you like to spend your days off?

We live very close to downtown Paso, so we love walking downtown and enjoying where we live. Paso Robles is a great small town community where ‘everybody knows your name’ (insert cheesy Cheers song- ha!)

Familpic- Dani interview

What would people be surprised to know about you?

There are five siblings in my family. I am the only one without a tattoo!  Occasionally I get tempted by the cute butterfly or fairy… but at this point I’ve got to stay unique & in the lead as mom’s favorite!

What is one of your favorite memories here?

My favorite times at Tablas are when we share a meal together outside. Wine is such an experience, when you have amazing wine & people, & a beautiful vineyard surrounding you.. can’t beat that, right!?

How do you define success? 

Live your life with faith & purpose. Count your blessings daily, don’t totally freak out in the hard times, & love the people around you dearly…. That’s success!


Co-Branding with Patagonia: Modern Stewards of the Land

By Linnea Frazier

He strolls into my office, bright and bushy-eyed with his dilapidated Yeti in hand, no doubt on his fourth or fifth cup considering he’s been up with the sun. His stained brown Carhartts do little to hide the evidence of our lambing season that is currently going on here at Tablas Creek Vineyard. As intrigued as I am, I dare not ask about the exact origins of the stains because after all, I myself am barely through my first cup. Maya, one of his Border Collies, slinks in and flops down upon my feet. Already this is an interview I can get behind.

Nathan Shepherd pic- Patagonia blog

Nathan Stuart is our shepherd here at Tablas Creek, and one of the central figures in our recent co-branding with outdoor retail giant Patagonia Inc. We all know them for their unparalleled wizardry with all things fleece and Goretex, but they also represent something far beyond climbing gear and backcountry men with a penchant for beards.

Not only is Patagonia a leading example on sustainable, green business practices with their Footprint and Worn Wear programs, but they are also one of the leading corporate voices in the fight for preserving our lands for generations to come.

They are known for radical moves such as donating 100% of their Black Friday sales to grassroots nonprofits ($10 million in 2016 alone). And their recent fight with the federal government on behalf of our national parks. The fact that they are a B Corp -- a for-profit company that is using the power of business to solve social or environmental problems -- says a lot.  Their mission statement is "Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis." 

You could say we’re fans.

Late last year, we became one of the companies in the United States that Patagonia has been willing to co-brand with. Co-branding happens when two brands agree to join forces to share a product indicative of both their identities. Upon learning this, I was eager to unpack what the process was that led to this move by both our companies, as well as why we were chosen to be one of the companies to share brands on their gear and be able to resell it in our tasting room. I can also safely say, the Tablas crew has never looked more dashing battling the frosty morning winters here in Paso. 

Basically it all boils down to two words: carbon sequestration.

If that phrase makes you scratch your head as much as it did me, have no fear because that is where our indomitable shepherd Nathan comes in, along with our Viticulturist and resident vine whisperer Jordan Lonborg to explain the science behind it. But first, some context.

Since our inception, Tablas Creek has made it a priority to farm with as positive an environmental impact as possible. We have been organic since the day our first rootstock touched the soil and certified Demeter biodynamic as of last year. As Nathan says in his characteristically blunt way, “at Tablas we were organic before it was popular. We’re certified biodynamic which is just taking that to the next level. We’re holding ourselves to a higher accountability and pushing to create something that goes beyond us.”

Our flock of some two-hundred sheep and alpacas, plus a llama and donkey or two, is the core of our vineyard's holistic management program. According to Nathan, "holistic management encompasses organic, biodynamic, mob grazing, rotational and regenerative grazing, and asks how we can best benefit the land. We use varied processes depending on the acres, so we are responding directly to the land and listen to what it needs from us to build the relationship." The sheep are moved every couple days to a new section of the vineyard, where they fertilize and till the soil, providing nutrients for our vines and controlling weeds. "The way we manage the sheep on our land is attempting to mimic the buffalo of the plains in centuries past" Nathan continues. The American plains were amongst the most fertile soils in the world, massive repositories of organic carbon, and the rotational grazing provided naturally by the vast, moving herds of American buffalo were a large part of why.1

Soil

While our grazing plan falls into Nathan’s sheepish hands, the care of the vines themselves is the responsibility of Jordan Lonborg, our Viticulturist. Upon joining the Tablas family in 2016, one of Jordy's first goals was to move forward with biodynamic certification. He broke down the soil and vine management in a way that didn’t leave my right-oriented brain spinning:

"We are creating a self-sustaining ecosystem right on the property. In order to do this we need to maintain the balance of the land. All of our grape skins, stems, and vine prunings are incorporated into our massive compost program and are returned to the soil on a yearly basis. We capture native bee swarms on the property and raise them to assist in pollination of our cover crops. There are large swaths of beneficial insect gardens planted throughout the vineyard to attract predatory insects, as well as providing a source of nectar and pollen for the honey bees in this arid climate. We also have an ever increasing raptor program on our acres as well. To enhance biodiversity we plant at least one fruit tree for every acre of grapevines on the ranch. Most importantly, we employ a group of 8-10 people throughout the entire year for vineyard work rather than hire random crews for labor as we need them. Our footprint is already smaller than most in this industry and we only plan on continuing to make moves to decrease it.”

Jordy Alpaca FB- Patagonia Blog

So how do regenerative grazing and bee swarms and all these holistic processes tie into carbon sequestration? Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide and storing it in another form to help slow or reverse the accumulation of greenhouse gases, the vast majority of which are released by the burning of fossil fuels. Soil that is treated with anthropogenic fertilizers or pesticides is not able to accumulate or break down the organic matter that holistic soils can. Organic matter equals carbon in the soil, rather than the atmosphere. And there are other benefits. In Nathan's words: "Soil holds carbon. Carbon holds water. So if we hold more carbon in the soil instead of the atmosphere, we’re pulling more water out of the air. And water vapor is another greenhouse gas. Think of it like a holistic raindance if you will, which is attempting to slow the heating of our climate. The carbon is in the wrong place at the wrong time and we’re working on doing what we can to set us on the right path once again." Carbon sequestration is the key, ultimately, to reversing the most critical environmental impacts of the industrial revolution, and is the ultimate goal of the new wave of sustainable agriculture.

A short video that Nathan referred me to called The Soil Story by Kiss the Ground proved to be immensely insightful. Kiss the Ground is a nonprofit working on creating greater public engagement with the pervasive issue of global soil restoration. And not to mention their graphics guy has some serious skills. 

Between our holistic approach to vineyard management and Patagonia's stalwart belief in the fundamental importance of sustainable green business practices, the co-branding is something we can all be proud of. When I asked Jordy why he thought the Patagonia co-branding made sense he replied,

"When it comes down to it, it’s about trying to be the best stewards of the land we could possibly be. I think that’s the bottom line of both companies, obviously there’s a profitability side to it and everyone’s got to be able to run a business and make money, but that’s not the reason we come to work everyday. We use our position in the wine industry to shed light on important sustainability processes. And in the end we do spend more money than most wineries to achieve that stewardship and I think Patagonia’s probably right along the same path."

Leslie Castillo, our Tasting Room Team Lead as well as the wife of our shepherd Nathan, and avid reader of everything Yvon Chouinard, was our point woman in reaching out and building our relationship with Patagonia. “I 100% believe in what we do here at the vineyard with our wines, and so I also wanted to start working with people and companies that are like-minded, people that care about the planet in an intentional way and not just for marketing. I see that in Patagonia.”

Leslie Patagonia blog

She, along with all of us here at Tablas who strive to uphold the ideals we think a business should embody, are fortified all the more by the decision to co-brand with a company such as Patagonia.

We are merely two companies amongst thousands in our respective fields. But we each try to do our part individually. If we can work together to accomplish more, we should.

Footnotes:

  1. Patagonia Provisions, the department of Patagonia that is working on the food sustainability front, explains the environmental importance of the American buffalo in one of their films, Buffalo Jerky and the Grasslands.